Anatomy – Where do I begin?!

February 8, 2011 at 6:23 pm 18 comments

You’re a Pilates teacher.  You work with bodies and you have a body, but how much do you know really know about bodies?  How much have you studied anatomy?  Functional anatomy?  It’s a vast universe, the human body.  Where do you begin your studies?  How do you continue?  How much do you need to know as a Pilates teacher?

Well, let’s pick a good place to start:  major muscles and bones that you can palpate (touch).  Learn their names, muscle origins and insertions.

Bones (from the ground up):  Calcaneus, Malleoli, Tibia, Fibula, Patella, Femur (landmarks of Greater and Lesser Trochanter), Pelivs (Illium, Ischium, Pubis, Ischial tuberosity, PSIS, ASIS {can you define these abbreviations?}), Spine (Coccyx, Sacrum, Lumbar, Thoracic, Cervical Spine {do you know how many vertebrae are in each section and what the curve of each is?}), Cranium (do you know the names of the lobes?), Scapulae, Ribs (how many True Ribs, False Ribs, Floating Ribs), Sternum (do you know the 3 parts?), Clavicles, Acromium process, Humerus, Radius, Ulna

Muscles (from the ground up):  Soleus, Gastrocnemius, Hamstrings (How many are there?  What are their names?), Quadriceps (And how many are there?  What are their names?), Gracilis, Sartorius, Adductor Group, Tensor fascia latae, Psoas, Illiacus (Can’t really palpate that.  And do you know what the Iliopsoas is?), Gluteus minimus, medius and maximus, Spinal extensors, Quadratus lumborum, Latissiums dorsi, Trapezius, Rhomboids, Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor, Teres major, Subscapularis (do you know which 4 muscles of the shoulder girdle comprise the “Rotator Cuff”?), Abdominals (Transverse abdominus, Internal and External obliques, Rectus abdominus, Pectoralis major, Serratus anterior, Deltoids, Biceps, Triceps

This is where you begin.  Memorize the names and find these bones and muscles on a chart. Find them on your own body.  Find them on a fellow teacher who you are studying with.

Next, learn the origins and insertions of each muscle.

Then, learn the function of each muscle.  All muscles have primary and secondary functions.  Many even have even more functions.  Start with the primary function.

From there, take a look at your Pilates exercises and figure out what major muscles or muscle groups are used in each and every exercise.  What is strengthened?  What is stretched?

Then study more.

Pick one muscle or one area and dig deeper.  You or your client has a hamstring issue?  Learn all that you can about hamstrings.

How about study the pelvis?  What bones comprise the pelvis?  When were they separate?  When do they conjoin?  What parts remain mobile as adults? Take a look at every muscles that connects to the pelvis and study them all.  You’ll learn that they all have to be in balance to be able to stabilize the pelvis!

Study the spine.  See the many different layers of extensors.  From proprioceptors to major movers!

Start with basics and then go deeper and deeper.

And where do you go to study?  Anatomy books are great.  Any of them.  Just pick one up!  Know what’s just as good?  Search on line!  Google away!  Read every entry!  (OK…read 5 or 10 entries per search!)

And ask a lot of questions!  I’m pleased to help you out!

Now, please remember that you are not to teach your clients with anatomical terms.  Please refer to thigh bones as thigh bones and not as “femurs”.  Please use “lay terms”.  Upper arm bones are upper arm bones, not “humeri” to your clients!  They don’t need an intellectual study in anatomy…they need a physical experience of how their own anatomy works.  And, yes, you’re excited at your knowledge, but remember that humility goes a long way.  Your ability to adapt use your intellectual understanding to deepen your understanding of this method and enrich your teaching…now…that is impressive!  That’s the way to show your knowledge…just use it!

Sit bones are sit bones – not ischial tuberosity.
Shoulder blades are shoulder blades – not scapulae.
Lower back is lower back – not lumbar spine.


So…study on!  Enjoy!  Ask questions and apply your knowledge to understanding why this method works, what each exercise is about and how to make them most effective!

I’m excited for you!

Feb. 26 – Easton(near Boston), MA – Easton Pilates-
8:30am – Master Mat Class
10am-1pm – Flow and Rhythm
2-5pm – Great Groups and Sensational Semis

Contact Judy at Easton Pilates to register and for pricing information:

Mar. 5 – Margate, NJ – Yoga Zone –
11am – 12pm Magic Circle Mat Class (1 hour class)
12:30pm – 3:30pm Great Groups and Sensational Semis (3 hour workshop)

Go to for pricing and registration information.

Mar. 11 – New York, New York – Pilates on Fifth –
4-7pm Archival Standing Exericses and Joseph Pilates Retrospective and Perspective

Go to for full information and registration

These workshops are immediately useful!  It’s my aim to make sure you get information that you need and can use right away to make every session you teach more satisfying for you and for your client!

If you’re in NYC and want a Pilates session e-mail me at

If you’d like a workshop and/or semi-privates at your studio, e-mail me at  I travel all over the world and would be thrilled to come to you!

If you’d like to set up a meeting on the phone or in person to ask questions about the teaching or building your business, e-mail me at

Enjoy!- Shari

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Advancing to the Ideal: Modify and then Advance Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Spine: What are they and why do we care?!

18 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alex  |  February 9, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Can I go outside to play after…..

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  February 9, 2011 at 9:42 am

      Oh, Alex…I thought studying anatomy and bio-mechanics was play!

      Alas…I need some help!

      Yes! Go out and play!

      – Shari

  • 3. Alex  |  February 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    “I thought studying anatomy and bio-mechanics was play!”

    Obviousley “Palpating” the wrong people!

    Why do I need to know the Cranium & Lobes?

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  February 12, 2011 at 11:25 am

      Oh, Alex! I’m sure you’re “palpating” just fine!

      As for knowing the lobes of your noggin…why not? Then you will learn that all the crevices are for muscular attachments and you might then wonder what muscles attach where and why and what they do and how they are affected in the Pilates workout and how you can ease your poor clients’ noggins when they are all concerned about their scalenes or some such muscles being tight and sore.

      Would a better reply have been something like “Because.”?l

      Enjoy your cranium!
      – Shari

  • 5. sandi  |  February 9, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Thanks for another great reminder.

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  February 12, 2011 at 11:22 am

      Hi, Sandi!

      I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!

      – Shari

  • 7. angela  |  February 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    i almost totally agree with this post but some clients really thrive from anatomical explanation, anyone in the business for example. watching my osteopath have a-ha moments when i start talking about how her femur is supposed to much relative to the socket is maybe the most fun you can have while you’re working.

    some clients love the pictures in the anatomy coloring book when i show them what i’m talking about in terms of movement. when they see the bones they sort of ‘click’ it into their brains.

    most of them just want shoulder blade but some of them really dial in to scapula.

    i love your blog, you always make my brain go off on these awesome little thought tangents that somehow impove my practice 🙂

  • 8. jnynb  |  March 16, 2011 at 1:21 am


    I just stumbled upon this wonderful blog (thank goodness!). As a student going through a certification program (BASI), this is so helpful. I live in NYC, so I will be trying to take one of your courses as soon as possible.

    Thanks again!

    • 9. theverticalworkshop  |  March 16, 2011 at 9:47 pm

      Hi, Jenny,

      Thank you very much for both reading my blog/articles and taking the time to drop me a line!

      I have worked with many BASI trained teachers and think Rael is a wonderful man! I would love to work with you whenever you’d like! I’ve got a workshop coming up on April 9 in NYC, but I’m teaching in the city throughout the week. Let’s set up a session! You can e-mail me at any time!

      All the best! And thank you, again!
      – Shari

  • 10. Alex  |  March 17, 2011 at 9:09 am

    I am curious, so how do you teach Jenny, and adhere to your classical roots / beliefs, whilst also not confuse her, as she may be coming from a more “modular” approach?

  • 11. jodie  |  April 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Hi Shari,

    What are the best exercises (reformer/tower, mat) for clients with sciatica? Also, a client that has C3-C7 fused,L4-S1 fused due degenerative disc disease. Note client cleared by 2 doctors to exercise. What would you suggest are the best exercises for this client?

    Thanks in advance.

    • 12. theverticalworkshop  |  April 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm

      Hi, Jodie,

      Thank you, again…this time for asking questions! I love questions!

      Sciatica – Whether it’s true sciatica (compression of the sciatic nerve as it exits the spinal column) or sciatica-like symptoms from compression of the sciatic nerve somewhere along it’s journey usually through the hip (often by the piriformis and glutes), that poor nerve is being held tight up at the top tugging on the entire length. With that…it’s very important to avoid at all costs stretching the hamstrings. It feels like your client wants to stretch her hamstrings, but you must not. You will be over-stretching this nerve that is already pulled tight from this impingement. That will only fire it up more.

      So, any exercise that would have a hamstring stretch element to it must be done with softened knees to release the hamstring…or rather the sciatic nerve.

      Concentrate on exercises that will open up the back of the hip (glutes and piriformis) and the lumbar spine. Make sure you are not cueing to squeeze the seat/butt/sitbones (as you ought to eliminate that cue with any client…it only compresses and does not strengthen or appropriately support). Work to lift the lumbar spine and release the seat.


      Mat: Half Roll Down is the perfect exercise. And all straight leg exercises need to be done with softened knees.

      Reformer: Lighten footwork/stomach massage spring so that there is no gripping in the seat. Eliminate Tree (hamstring challenges are bad for that poor nerve, remember).

      Cadillac: Rolling back, Push Through (soft knees) are great!

      A physical therapy tool that is fantastic is the foam roller: Roll out the glutes and piriformis on the foam roller (Self-Myofacial-Release).

      Also, gentle stretches of the back of the hip are great: lying on the back, cross one shin (with knee bent out to the side) over the opposite thigh. With both hands, hold behind that opposite thigh. Do small, controlled circles (like single leg circles) keeping the sacrum on the mat. 5 in each direction on each leg…starting with the leg whose hip feels good, then going to the side that hurts. Do not hold a stretch…do little circles so muscles don’t grip up but have a chance to release.

      Again, avoid anything that will stretch the length of the sciatic nerve…so no hamstring stretches and modify any exercise that would stretch it (the roll up, single leg circles, single straight leg stretch/scissors, double straight leg stretch/lower-lift, spine stretch forward, saw, etc…)

      Follow these precautions until there are no symptoms of sciatica for a couple of weeks. It can easily flare up.

      Tell your client to stay out of high heels and not walk/run/bike up hill, though level land is great.

      Please let me know if this makes sense. And…ask me more questions about it, please!

      Thank you, Jodie!
      – Shari

    • 13. theverticalworkshop  |  April 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm

      And…your fused spine client…should just do normal Pilates. Recognize that the parts that are fused simply won’t loosen up and the surrounding/adjacent vertebral joints will compensate by become extra mobile. Emphasize length and space between each back bone…as though they could separate the fused back bones.

      With C3-7 fused, there will be an obvious issue with overhead exercises. Like all overhead exercises, work to maintain the natural curve of the cervical spine reaching the shoulder blades back into the mat for support rather than the back of the neck. The face should look straight to the ceiling, not towards the body/hips. I’d have to see your client to really see how much ability overhead she/he has…but that’s a good guideline.

      So…normal Pilates…emphasize upward length (lift each vertebra up off of the one below it). Be aware that those that are fused will never separate and those nearby are bearing the burden of flexibility.

      Let me know if that helps at all…and perhaps I can help more. This is just a start.

      Thank you!
      – Shari

  • […] Anatomy – Where do I begin?!2011/02/08 […]

  • 15. Tracy  |  September 23, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Shari, I have been asked to teach reformer classes and its always a challenge! Firstly, I usually don’t know some of the people in the class, their training, interests, injuries, etc…. so I end up keeping it very basic, frustrating some others who may think it too ‘easy’. You get the picture.. I have opted out of teaching these for a while till I feel I can do a better job – Help!


    • 16. theverticalworkshop  |  September 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm

      Tracy, thanks for asking about reformer classes. Group classes, in general, take a different set of skills and a different way of thinking…I will write a piece cover group classes and hope that we can do a workshop on it soon, too!

      Stay tuned…I’ll write more later, but just wanted you to know, now,that I had received this request!

      – Shari

  • […] Anatomy – Where do I begin?!2011/02/08 […]

  • 18. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    […] Anatomy – Where do I begin?!2011/02/08 […]


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